Last Call

Last Call

The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Book - 2010
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A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America's most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America's favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.

From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.

Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent's dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.

Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women's suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.

Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible--if long-forgotten--federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent's account of Joseph P. Kennedy's legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)

It's a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent's narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing "sacramental" wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.

Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent's rank as a major American writer.
Publisher: New York, NY : Scribner, 2010
Edition: 1st Scribner hardcover ed
ISBN: 9780743277020
Branch Call Number: History 363.41 Okr


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Jul 18, 2016

A complete look at the agitation for and the establishment of Prohibition in the USA. Details the people who pressed for and against the 19th amendment and those who fought for it's repeal. Interesting historical look and a good lesson on how single issue campaigns can be implemented without majority support. This is not a salacious look at the organized crime aspects of Prohibition though some characters are touched upon. Worth reading if you are interested.

Feb 10, 2014

I have so many problems with this book and the author's telling OR re-telling of history: the impetus for the passage of the 16th Amendment contradicts too many other books, recountings, and newspaper articles surrounding those times; instead of collecting tax to pay the interest on the money loaned by the Federal Reserve to the US Treasury (and the Federal Reserve Act, the 16th Amendment and oil depletion allowance were all passed in 1913) they supposedly passed it in conjunction with the FUTURE passage in 1920 of Prohibition? And painting old Joe Kennedy as a saintly type again contradicts way to many books, studies and news accounts I've read over the years; his familiarity with certain mobsters, the machinations involving his Hollywood acquitions, both of companies and actresses? The entire financial angle of Prohibition, and the entities and invididuals who financed its passage, was pretty much glossed over - - it's not the Anti-Saloon League, as much as who was financing it (just as today we shouldn't be concerned with these " fill-in-the-blank Works " so much as that the Koch brothers are financing them, ditto for A.L.E.C., et cetera). Those who thought up and financed the passage of Prohibition, were the same ones who bought up the distilleries and hooches, and arranged the smuggling routes from overseas, and the youngest bank president at that time (Joe Kennedy of Columbia Trust) was often rumored to be that mastermind! SUGGESTION: Look up and read the court cases involving Joseph Kennedy during his activities in the movie business in Hollywood, quite criminal in nature.

Jul 30, 2012

The story of temperance, prohibition and its eventual repeal comes alive in Daniel Okrent's brilliant examination of the era. The book's sharp wit and choice prose makes it clear early on that Last Call is more than just another history lesson. The best parts are the sprinkled bits of ironic humor, deadpanned and perfectly understated, which never fail to delight. I also appreciate the author's frequent use of period-specific quotes, allowing the who's who of Prohibition to speak for themselves.

There's no escaping America's long fascination with booze and how it punctuates our history. We are a nation of unapologetic drinkers. We are also a nation of fervent religious convictions (abstinence included) so it was only a matter of time before opposing forces collided. Given that temperance and prohibition are saturated with tales of moral grandstanding, political manipulation, opportunism, greed and hypocrisy, it's arguable that this sums up more about America's past than we would care to admit.

oldhag Jul 08, 2012

Describes how passage of the 16th Amendment allowed Prohibition to come into being because the income tax replaced the money lost from liquor taxes.
Also, details the division between distillers and brewers: "It certainly didn't help that the distilling business had become a largely Jewish industry - perhaps not as uniformly as the beer industry was German". Most interesting was the observation that, prior to the 18th Amendment, only one amendment prohibited Americans from an action, that was the 13th (which Mississippi didn't ratify until 1995). According to the author, before President Roosevelt abolished the Prohibition Bureau, its last head, Alfred V. Dalrymple remarked, "...that had the ASL been willing to accept legalization of light wines and beer, 'the eighteenth amendment would have remained in the Constitution for 100 years'." Scary thought.

Jul 29, 2010

Dense but highly entertaining, this answers the big question--why did the Volstead act become the law of the land? by focusing on the unusual combination of forces that made for prohibition. Interesting discussion of the ways in which big cities were at odds with the 'heartland'--a conflict we still wrestle with.


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